This is a place for discussions of historic preservation in Armory Park, and what benefits and challenges it presents. Local history is another subject addressed here and in web pages. I will publish articles here when it seems helpful; readers are invited to comment. To support the mission of this site, acceptable comments are those that contribute to reasonable historic preservation, better understanding of our history and serve the interests of Armory Park residents. Others may be invited to post here also. Please let me know if you want to do so.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Railroad Coal Tower

 There has been some listserv discussion recently regarding a coal tower the railroad used to fuel its steam locomotives back in the day. Tod Santee did a post  that inspired me to do a search for the matter in the Star archives. Here is what Tod had to say: 

  "Up until way back in '97-'98 or so, there was an historic coal tower straddling the tracks almost directly east of 16th St & Toole.  One day we found out Union Pacific or Southern Pacific RR was preparing to knock it down with a wrecking ball but only because of the news that a homeless guy who had apparently been living inside the upper part for a few years when he came to Tucson during his transience.  He climbed out on the roof of it basically daring the wreckers to "go ahead and try" according to so news reports & interviews he got with the Star.
    "Some research showed that it was one of the only remaining coal towers in AZ, if not most of the US.  It turned out that Dean Saxton(sp?), son of the former owners of the big adobe carriage/boarding house in the middle of the 400 block of 3rd Ave., had tried buying it a couple times in the past.  We, APNA, began trying to convince UPRR to keep the structure.  They argued it was in poor shape and needed to come down.
     "On the morning they finally decided it was coming down no matter what, a bunch of us, including Dean, showed up at 6am across from what was most recently Whole Foods protesting to stop them with Dean ready with a check to buy it on the spot.  KVOA and the Daily Star showed up to film & interview a few people.  I showed up at work (teaching) that day and my students were calling me a tower-hugger (instead of tree-hugger).
     "Needless to say, since the tower is no longer there, our attempts were unsuccessful.  The tower took about 4 hits by the wrecking ball before it showed any signs of falling apart (at least from a distance).
     "Unfortunately, the homeless man living there was quite distraught after losing his tower (plus other family problems I think) that he took his life by laying on the tracks in front of an approaching train somewhere between 12th & Toole and 4th Ave."

The Star had a few articles on the matter which were largely sympathetic to the man, Daniel Sheehan, who had made the tower his home. Here are the lead paragraphs of an article in the 10 January 1998 edition:

"Daniel Sheehan's official address is “general delivery" — but his home for more than four years has been the distinctive coal tower that looms as a landmark near Tucson's downtown.
"Yesterday he refused to leave the 160-foot-tall structure — at times threatening to jump — for more than seven hours after learning that it was slated for destruction.

“His main concern was that was home — and it was being torn down," said Tucson police Officer Bobby Boone, a hostage negotiator. At one point, Boone said, Sheehan told him: 'Bobby, all 1 want to do is let somebody know I’m here.'"

It's a sad story of a person barely hanging on finally pushed over the edge by circumstances. 

Here is the picture from the Star:

Some people at the time and today regret the loss of an historic landmark. Here are a couple of comments from that time captured by the Star:
“It’s kind of a landmark,” said Sharon Chadwick, who lives near the tower and is a past member of the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission. “It is sad — and it is undoubtedly a historic structure, but the railroad has never shown much interest in history — even its own history."

Dave Devine, a longtime Tucsonan with a strong interest in history, said he also found it sad. “Anytime we lose any of our history I feel bad, but particularly about steam engines because that is a very important segment of the history of this community, which is very little known," he said. “On the other hand," he said, “if there are structural problems 1 can understand if they have to take it down. This reinforces why something has to be done to ensure the Southern Pacific Depot (in the 400 block of East Toole Avenue) is protected and rehabili­tated.” Devine said. [Fortunately, that has happened.]

Tod's comments at the top of the page suggest that there were others in the neighborhood who didn't want the tower to go. 

If you want to read the Star articles in full, go to this link:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Ken! This is exactly the type of hardcopy scanning I had in mind when I asked if anybody had old Armory Park related news stories hanging around... thinking mostly in neighbors' scrapbooks, collectibles, or attic boxes. Would be GREAT to scan these and publish them online.